Vorwerk & Co.

This area encompassing the cities of Dusseldorf, Essen, Dortmund, Duisburg, Wuppertal is collectively known as the industrial heartland of Germany. Wuppertal, an unexciting city of 350,000, looks like its best years were in the 1950's and hasn't done much to change since then. The same goes for Vorwerk's eight-story head office building built in the 1960's. The blah-looking structure could use a makeover and evidently that will be happening real soon since most of the building is girdled in green construction sheeting.

One has to be buzzed into the building and then deal with two receptionists neither of who speaks English. You'd think they would right away find someone who speaks English but they act like I'm expected to go away. I'm not exaggerating; I spend a good 10 minutes trying to explain how I'd like to speak to someone who speaks English. Very strange, especially when you consider Vorwerk does business in over 40 countries. What does this company with over 14,000 employees and over 2.5 DM billion in revenues do? In Germany its vacuum cleaners are the market leader. Vorwerk also sells fitted kitchens, bathroom equipment and carpet for the retail trade.

Looking around the expansive but dated lobby/reception area visitors have no clue as to what the company does since there're zilch product displays. The large 10 foot by 10 foot canvas painting hanging prominently on a wall doesn't do much for me either. The canvas looks like someone slopped globs of white plaster over it and then called it a piece of art.

After a 20 minute wait I'm given a warm welcome by Petra Mertins, who heads the company's corporate communications. The introductory material sent a month earlier to CEO Jorg Mittelstein Scheid had been received and trickled down to her. I'm grateful for Mertins spending time with me especially since she missed a meeting to do so.

About 600 employees work here. I ask why the company doesn't show off some of its vacuum cleaners in the large lobby and Mertins says she's had talks with the big boss about it. Actually, Mertins later walks me over to another part of the building where they're a an impressive showroom displaying some of the furnished kitchen units sold by the company. There're no recreational facilities; smoking is allowed in the offices, the nearest freeway is four miles away and the nearest airport (Dusseldorf) 25 miles. The company's website, except for listing addresses of its foreign operations, is in German.

It was pretty funny seeing the reaction on Martins' face when telling her I was being sponsored by Hoover's. After purposely waiting about 15 seconds to clarify, I then say, "No, no, NOT Hoovers the vacuum cleaner company.